A former Harlan County sheriff who admitted stealing money from a fund meant to be used for undercover drug purchases was sentenced to five years’ probation Tuesday.
Marvin J. Lipfird will serve three months in jail and five months on home incarceration.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove also ordered Lipfird to perform 80 hours of community service and repay the county $20,285.
Lipfird already has repaid $2,262.
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Lipfird apologized to the court, his family and the people of Harlan County during the sentencing hearing in federal court in London, saying he was ashamed.
Lipfird was a constant in law enforcement in Harlan County for two decades, working at the Loyall and Evarts police departments before serving two terms as sheriff.
He also received nationwide attention through a television show called “Kentucky Justice.”
A camera crew shadowed him and officers for a program about an Appalachian sheriff fighting drugs and “devoting his life to cleaning up the community,” in the words of a promotional news release.
The show aired on the National Geographic channel in late 2013 and early 2014.
Lipfird lost his bid for a third term in 2014.
A federal grand jury indicted him in November 2016, charging that he misappropriated money from late 2011 through late 2013.
In addition to taking money from the drug account, Lipfird allegedly used a county credit card for personal purchases and doubled-dipped on expense reimbursments.
Some of the suspect spending first came to light in state audits, which said that a total of $27,774 in spending by his office in 2012 and 2013 was not appropriate, including $2,159 for food or alcohol; $1,162 in hotel charges; $453 for personal clothing; $135 for baby items; $659 for subscriptions to websites, including a dating site and a site offering legal advice; and $90 for a massage.
Lipfird pleaded guilty to two felony charges. His recommended sentence under advisory federal guidelines was six to 12 months in jail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone recommended a nine-month sentence, noting that the type of crime in which Lipfird took part breeds distrust and makes the job of honest officers harder.
However, Lipfird’s attorney, David S. Hoskins, argued for probation, citing the unique bond that Lipfird has with his autistic son.
The boy, a fourth-grader, has a strong bond with his father, and only Lipfird can comfort and control him during emotional meltdowns, Lipfird’s wife, Carrie, testified.
Hoskins said Lipfird devoted much of his life to helping people as a police officer and a volunteer fireman, and he has suffered the loss of his career and the esteem of the community.
Van Tatenhove took into account Lipfird’s family situation, but he said some period of confinement was justified.
Conduct like Lipfird’s contributes to a creeping cynicism that causes people to question whether the system can be trusted, the judge said.
“When you abuse it, and you have, then it is a really serious blow, if you will, to that sense of public trust,” Van Tatenhove said.
Lipfird will serve his three months behind bars on weekends.